Meeting the Moment with Innovative Online Leader Preparation
How do we prepare educators to be effective equity-focused leaders in an era of Zoom meetings, virtual town halls, and online planning sessions? In this unprecedented time, Austin Peay State University (APSU) inTennessee is leading the way. In late May, 67 exemplary teachers from across the state began a new online training program to become transformational school leaders—leaders who are not afraid todo things differently, especially now.
“I want to see leaders who can empower, motivate…persevere,” explains Dr. Laura Barnett, a former school leader of 18 years and coordinator of the inaugural APSU Aspiring Assistant Principal Network. Selected from urban and rural Tennessee school districts of every size, all 67 teachers will engage in job-embedded learning, coaching, and coursework to earn administrator credentials. The year-long program was designed with support from New Leaders as part of an initiative to re-envision leader preparation across the country.
As system and school leaders face an acute need for online and blended professional learning options in the coming year, APSU’s online-by-design program offers a unique blueprint. Spurred by investment from the state of Tennessee, the paradigm shift for APSU has been twofold: First, an emphasis on effective leadership practices and ongoing opportunities to apply those practices in school settings, virtual or otherwise. Second, the need to view their success through the impact graduates have beyond the program – and not just the completion of the program itself which is how most university-based programs measure their success.
“Our College of Education is judged by the work that our graduates do,” explains Dean Prentice Chandler. “That’s the signature hallmark of whether or not we’re doing a good job.”
Listen as Dean Chandler and Dr. Barnett describe what is different about their online approach and how the learning is rooted in both theory and the daily demands of school leadership roles.
The national outcry for racial justice and the need for leaders to address systemic racism has only fueled the desire for leaders to meet the moment and grow professionally. The APSU model is a new solution – and an opportunity to move forward differently. The approach includes four central design elements:
Self-Paced: Online content allows adult learners to excel in their current roles while they learn new skills and practices.
Interactive: Virtual classes and coaching sessions provide opportunities for adult learners to interact with experienced school leaders.
Job-Embedded: Assignments are specific to the school context and provide adult learners with ongoing opportunities to practice newly acquired leadership skills.
Learner-driven: A team of experienced professionals – mentor principal, faculty, coaches – support and engage adult learners in self-reflection and problem-solving.
By the end of the year-long program, Dr. Barnett expects graduates to be “problem solvers who know how to create new solutions and not just look for the same old answers.” They need to have a clear vision and drive impact by using effective leadership practices to move students toward independence and success. To advance that goal, APSU also recruited additional faculty and coaches (including two New Leaders alumni) who have experience as successful school leaders.
“We don’t pretend to know the best ways to do everything,” notes Dean Chandler. “There are some people who do, who can help us. It would be foolish not to take advantage of that.”
This time next spring the first cohort will graduate. The partnership between New Leaders and APSU is forging a new pathway for 67 future leaders to advance excellence and equity across the state of Tennessee. In time, this partnership will form the foundation for new partnerships with more institutions of higher education in states across the country.
The partnership between APSU and New Leaders is part of an initiative by New Leaders to scale our impact across the country. It is supported by an investment from The Studio @ Blue Meridian. The Studio @ Blue Meridian empowers social sector leaders by providing flexible resources that help fill strategic gaps and accelerate an organization’s readiness for significantly scaling its reach, impact, and influence.